What Digital Leadership Requires

The incredible growth of internet, especially mobile, penetration and usage in India is no hidden fact and neither is it unknown that businesses are already deeply immersed in an era of digital disruption which is only likely to accelerate. Companies across sectors are facing an urgent need to change the way they interact with customers with touch points across the organisation instead of traditional customer facing areas. Creating and managing a digital presence has become a key component of business strategy across sectors.

In companies across the globe, digital leadership has increasingly grown to become a C-suite role rather than being ensconced within the marketing function. According to an article published in, the number of people in Chief Digital Officer roles doubled in 2014 and was further expected to double in 2015 in the US.

The ubiquity of digital touch points across functional areas is driving the demand for general management capability that can oversee the remapping of organisations onto a digital world. Managing organisational change is a key component, increasingly requiring general management capability in addition to functional skills. Digital leadership needs to continually bridge the gap between technology and other functional areas and needs to play a mediating role in this regard.

Probably the most important point to consider is that traditional product design and supply chain structures also have an immense opportunity to evolve. Customers use the internet on their various devices to compare products, explore features, find the best deals and the easiest delivery models. This is creating the need for redesigning traditional products from the ground up and disrupt the old supply chains. It’s become essential for digital leadership to build strong product innovation capability or reenergise innovation in product teams to manage this at an organisational level in addition to knowing the myriad changes that are being created by the emerging technologies.

So what are the challenges in finding the right digital leadership for your organisation, especially in an Indian context ? A significant portion of talent that has built digital leadership and innovation capability has grown within entrepreneurial ventures which can cause issues with fitment within large, structured organisations. Additionally, the halo effect of fast scaling and well funded startups often creates a disinclination for talent to migrate into established organisations that seemingly offer only incremental growth.

The battle for digital talent has driven compensation benchmarks to stratospheric levels. Talent that can drive digital transformation can be priced at levels completely out of line with established compensation structures. Even when digital leadership talent is successfully hired, conflicts can arise over domains within the incumbent business and functional leadership in an organisation.

Despite these challenges, it is indeed possible to find and groom talent to capably fulfil digital leadership roles across sectors. What is required is an eye for talent outside traditional pools and the willingness to invest trust to drive a digital transition. Working with the right partners to identify non traditional pools and convince them to come on board can bring in the right mix of leadership experience. Strong employer branding of fostering an innovative and rewarding environment is also crucial in this process. Counter intuitively, in an age of light speed disruption, the right mix of judiciousness and patience can yield solid results.